MassDOT deserves enormous credit for trying to connect its investment decisions with the desired outcomes. It’s a challenging and complicated undertaking, constrained in many ways by federal reporting requirements, limited data, and unverified impact-calculating methodologies. The fact that their first attempt, the very impressive WeMove Massachusetts: Planning for Performance tool, is deeply flawed (for example, defining mobility solely as car travel) is much less important than the Agency’s public willingness to admit those flaws and commit itself to an iterative improvement process. This is something that every public— and private – organization needs to take on, not merely to better serve its stakeholders but also to be better in control of its own fate.
When trying to make investments with impact, there are three major difficulties. First, you must identify and prioritize or “weight” the goals according to their relative importance, selecting carefully among possible Policy-based, User-Experience-based, and Operations-based goals. For example, GreenDOT has declared “mode shift” to be a goal: to increase the number of people who choose to walk, bike or ride public transportation, instead of driving in a Single Occupancy Vehicle. MassDOT also has a goal of keeping roads in a “state of good repair” – which may conflict with the mode shift goal by increasing the attractiveness of car driving relative to other modes. Which goal gets higher priority?
Second is selecting the right metrics to evaluate progress towards each of the goals: things that can be cost-effectively measured, can be influenced by your actions, and that are sufficiently within your scope of control. Not only must good metrics be selected, appropriate numerical targets need to be set that reflect the “goal weighting” priorities as well as safety limits, federal requirements, and other parameters.
And third is figuring out how to model the ways and degrees that different types and amounts of investment will change operations, and that each of those operational changes will impact the metrics. While nationally-accepted formulas already exist for translating road budgets into road improvements and then into increased car mobility (meaning greater speed and volume with fewer delays), doing the same for other modes – transit, bicycling, walking – is a still-evolving practice. (Equally important, and also lacking in predictive tools, is exploring ways to restructure operations and infrastructure to move the metrics without major investment!)
In each category, the way a goal is defined shapes the way it is measured and the actions ultimately taken to achieve it. For example, MassDOT’s Planning for Performance tool’s definition of “mobility” as “the number of hours of delay experienced by the average driver for every 1,000 Vehicle-Miles-Traveled” not only ignores anything related to non-car travel, it also skews the measurement towards Single Occupancy Vehicles since it only counts delays to a driver rather than to all vehicle occupants.
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